I love reviews of different user interfaces. Ever since I took a class at SJSU SLIS about Web Usability, and even before that when I was a closet graphic design major wannabe (does that even work?), I was in love with the way we interact with computers and terminals and phones and other things.
There has been a lot of hub-bub today about the release of Lion, the newest version of Mac OS X. Rather than focus on the elements that are new or the new features, I’d like to point out an in-depth review of the update. Within this review is probably my favorite section of any software/hardware review I’ve ever read: the author reviews the interface updates that have taken place with Lion. In all honesty, I’m not a designer, so I can’t really comment too much on whether something is necessarily ugly or not. For me, a lot of my perceptions regarding an interface comes from how I interact with an object. If to me, the interface is awkward or difficult to understand, I take the time to figure out why I think it’s awkward and then absorb that so that I no longer will commit such sins against interface design in my work.
Okay, let’s get on to the actual discussion of the review. One of my favorite phrases, if you have known me long enough, is “mental bandwidth”. For example, if I am reading three books, and working on three projects, I am currently at my mental bandwidth limit – it describes exactly how much brain processing power I have available. It’s not necessarily a comment on ones intelligence, but rather their ability to deal with issues and items that come on. So this reviewer mentioned that the “bandwidth” necessary to parse an interface has increased greatly in the past few years. This comment reminds me of an assignment I had where we had to provide examples of good and bad interface design. One example was sleek, smooth, and handily provided all options that were necessary. The other provided every option IMAGINABLE on screen…creating a cluttered look. The mental bandwidth necessary to deal with this type of interface is greater than one that is simple and to the point. I think this is one of the best aspects of Apple design – they have Human Interface Guidelines for all of their products. In this way, they ensure that products are easy to understand and use.
One off-shoot of simple and smooth design is using real life analogues to replicate the feel and intention of a product. Apparently, in Lion, iCal and the Address Book provide the experience/look of their analog copies. Despite the fact that these changes do not negatively affect the usability of the product, it also doesn’t necessarily add functionality. I’m of the mind that the design of the product should increase it’s value. I guess you could say that I’m very “form follows function”. I’ll have to deal with these interfaces more before I can truly pass judgement, but I guess these changes are fine – as long as the product is still usable then who cares about the design. It’s not as if I had a hand in creating the interface, so I shouldn’t complain.